Friday, August 12, 2011

Digital Editing

The title of my next post is rather prolix, so I decided to keep this title short and sweet.

For the first time in my life I've worked with my editor on an electronic edit of a manuscript. This is the way Penguin does it now. You no longer get a lovely pile of A4 pages covered in pencil marks where your editor has come up with suggestions, corrections, even the odd jokey remark, always encircled so that the setter knows this particular remark is not to see print. My new book is around sixty thousand words long. Even though I've already done six drafts of it, it still isn't quite there. This is the time that the editor and I work together to see if we can actually achieve 'thereness'. When you work with an editor like Dmetri Kakmi, who has done all my books for Penguin, you end up pushing the words around quite a bit. Whole pages sometimes go, and you have to come up with new ones. In the case of my last book, The Life of a Teenage Body-snatcher, the two last chapters appeared very late in the piece, when Dmetri finally succeeded in convincing me that my book had a dud ending. It wasn't enough to have my mysterious adult body-snatcher appear at a public party. Oh no. It had to be more interesting. So I came up with two extra chapters that involve quite a lot of running and fainting and weapons and a daring rescue at sea. (Not everyone is satisfied by this ending, but I am. Especially the daring rescue bit.)

Here is page six of The Life of a Teenage Body-snatcher, the way it looked when Dmetri and I had finished copy-editing. Click on it to enlarge if you want to see how much to-ing and fro-ing goes on between editor and writer:

Some authors might be uncomfortable with copy editing of this extent. Certainly, Dmetri rarely gives a light edit, but his judgment is good and I like the way he challenges me. When Penguin designer Karen Trump (now Karen Scott) saw the amount of copy editing that Dmetri and I did on the typescript of one of my earlier books, The Clockwork Forest, she advised the typesetter not to bother using the electronic copy of the text that they had been sent. Typesetters almost always work from these. But there were so many changes, Karen suggested that the typesetter might as well set the whole thing from scratch. She may well have been right. She's been right about the design and covers of all my books so far. But in this digital age, the typesetter probably wasn't used to working from scratch, and some remarkable misprints appeared at first pages. The hero of The Clockwork Forest is named Morton, though his name was rendered as Moron once or twice. It made me pay particular attention to the proof-reading, and I'm fairly confident that there isn't a single goof in the whole of The Clockwork Forest. I wish I could say the same about The Life of a Teenage Body-snatcher, but I was over-confident and eight misprints slipped through. Nevre mind.

My new book is called The Shiny Guys. It's fairly serious because I didn't feel like being funny. It's my first experience of computer editing, and I didn't especially enjoy it. Dmetri asked all the right questions and suggested what I should delete and rewrite to improve the book. But I missed his little encircled comments in the margins. (You can still make comments with Word's editing program, but it's a bit like Twitter. It demands brevity.) I also missed those beautiful symbols that all editors and authors know, the ones that mean delete, transpose, carry over, etc. Here is a page from The Shiny Guys, edited by Dmetri and me. For continuity, I'll include page six. Once again, click if you want to enlarge:

It looks pretty bland, doesn't it? Computer editing is faster, cleaner and more efficient than the old fashioned kind. That's what they tell us, anyway. But I haven't taken to it. Maybe it's because I'm now in my fifties and resistant to change.  Back in the old days, when technological advances meant that printers no longer had to put together line after line of lead letters, maybe I would have been the one shaking my head and insisting that lead letters were far superior to this new-fangled nonsense. But I think my resistance to digital editing is that I miss the close relationship between editor and author, where you can have lively marginal debates about what should stay, what should go and what should be rewritten. Technically, you can do that with Word. But the program really doesn't encourage it.

I moaned about the digital editing revolution to fellow scribe Cath Crowley. How did she enjoy editing on a computer? She said, with some relief I think, that Pan Macmillan hadn't asked her to. Graffiti Moon was edited the old-fashioned way, with a pencil, and Cath was confident her next book would be too. I know that Morris Gleitzman prefers to have his manuscript go straight to first pages. That is, the copy editing doesn't happen until the first set of pages comes back from the typesetter. Everyone has a preference. Maybe I'll get used to it. But I can't help thinking that digital editing may make us lazier. It is a quick way to edit. But with speed comes slipshoddery, a word to which Jonathan Shaw introduced me, so I'm going to leave it, even though spellcheck desperately wants me to type something else.

The Shiny Guys will be published by Penguin in the first half of next year. It will have a brilliant cover, because Karen is working on it again. It will have less misprints than The Life of a Teenage Body-snatcher. Just in case Dmetri thinks I'm having a go, I should point out that the errors were mine. After the first print run, we noticed the mistakes and had them all fixed in the reprint. Then the book was shortlisted by the CBCA, so we had a second, bigger reprint. But McPherson's used the wrong film. So even though the book now has a nice medal on the cover, it also has eight misprints once again. I'm really sorry about the one on page 241. Click to enlarge and see if you can spot it:

And now to liven up what, visually at least, is a fairly bland post, here is my brilliant editor in his old office at Penguin Books in Camberwell. The more astute of you will notice that Dmetri is wearing a large bunny rabbit head. I don't know where he found it. But he decided to wear it at work one day, and the moment has been captured for posterity. Dmetri is now a freelance editor, and sharper than ever. I don't know if he still has the large bunny rabbit head. But I'm sure the Penguin people miss him.


Sheryl Gwyther said...

Wow, this is a fascinating read, Doug. I love the page with the 'real' editing marks - had fun deciphering it to make sense, and it did.
I agree the 'Review' function editing is a bit bland (for the want of a better word) and yes, very Twitterish.
Funny how the mind skips over mis-spells - I saw it the second read through. What a heel of a mistake!

DougMacLeod said...

Hi Sheryl,
I'm glad you didn't notice it on the first read-through. I used to niggle my Dogstar co-writer Philip Dalkin because he kept using the wrong 'its'. I hesitate to show him The Life of a Teenage Body-snatcher.
Have a great time at Ipswich, surely one of the best children's literature festivals in Australia, and give my very best to Jenny Stubbs.
Oh, and happy blogging.

Denise W said...

I enjoyed reading that. Didn't notice the error on the first read either and I think I'm a pretty good proof reader!